With intensifying systemic inequalities around the world materializing as global pandemics, accelerating climate change, food and energy bottlenecks, escalating refugee crises and rising race and religion-based violence, the idea of any singular, national “we” has never been more contested. And yet is there the possibility of another we?
“We Are Beside Ourselves” is a collaborative exhibition that brings together a group of artists who explore new ways to form a “we.” They look at our most intimate and most political rifts up close: where we sleep, whom we love, whom we create with, and spend leisure time with. Can working with instances of misunderstanding and contradiction transform injury and pain? If our bodies are living archives, how do we make selves, communities, and legacies by bringing heritages forward to build futures through lived experience? How do these practices open doors for visibility and legibility, affinity and connection, and furthermore offer methods for protective boundaries and navigating consent?
This exhibition is part of the The Racial Imaginary Institute multi-year residency collaboration with the James Gallery CUNY Graduate Center, which also include public discussions, performances, seminar, and publications. Founded in 2016 by the author Claudia Rankine, The Racial Imaginary Institute seeks to change the way we imagine race in the United States and internationally by lifting up and connecting the work of artists, writers, knowledge producers, and activists with audiences seeking thoughtful, innovative conversations and experiences. The members of TRII believe that “the work of defining and changing culture is all of ours.”
Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.
Claudia Rankine and John Lucas
The exhibition title is gratefully shared from Hong-An Truong's artwork, which refers to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's writing. The exhibition and related seminar and projects are responses to the TRII prompt On Nationalism: The Fragility and Possibilities of 'We.' With intensifying systemic inequalities around the world in the context of a global pandemic, accelerating climate change, an escalating refugee crisis and rising race-based violence, the idea of any singular, national “we” has never been more contested. Toxic conceptions of “us vs. them,” a doubling down of “me and mine,” underlie a global ethos of racialized nationalism. At the same time, we are in a generative yet tenuous time of community organizing, protest movements, mutual support, and intersectionality. Both responses stem from the language and feeling of injury and longing. When the notion of home is unstable, what are our options? As Paul Chan said, “Is there a direction home that doesn’t point backward?”
There is the possibility of “we.” How much should we invest in ideas of the “we”? How can we re-imagine nation, tribe, community? What practices of listening, sharing, and making could be enacted across varying visions of community, decolonization and self-determination? How does our complicity become constitutive of community as we imagine it? How do national identities shape our everyday lives? Which borders are permeable and which are sustainable? Which injuries are bearable and which are not? To quote Homi Bhabha, “When is a risk to life also a risk to living??